Port Harcourt, Lagos, Enugu and Kaduna — Vote vending or buying has gradually become a part of Nigeria’s electoral system.
Despite lofty claims by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that it has found the antidote to balloting malfeasance through enhanced card readers, the recent Ekiti State gubernatorial poll put politicians ahead of it in terms of rigging dynamics.
Whether the electoral body was powerless, complacent or complicit in the vote bazaar that went on in Ekiti last Saturday, vote buying has become a new ulcer in the electoral environment.
The implication of that dubious innovation is that governors would continue to hold the electorate to ransom due to the facility of security vote.
For some time now, the lack of a foolproof machinery to audit government expenditure and inability to subject security matters to public scrutiny has provided impetus for state governors to continue to use such votes as slush funds.
That was what played out in Ekiti, Ondo, Edo and Anambra gubernatorial polls.
The Director of Claude Ake School of Government, Professor Eme Ekekwe, told The Guardian that though there is nothing wrong with governors budgeting for security, such appropriation must be subject to public scrutiny like every other government expenditure.
He said concerns that money spent for ballot buying might be slush funds derived from security vote and contract inflation, makes it imperative for such cash to be properly budgeted and accounted for.
“The way it is now, everything is shrouded in secrecy.
You don’t know what is in the budget for security vote.
You don’t know what it is used for and governors tend to use it as slush fund.
Often times, they use the money for private political purposes or private use, which should not be,” he stressed.
While insisting that security votes should be budgeted to make it available for audit and accounting purposes, the don said: “My position is that security votes should be brought out in the open.
You will not scrap it, because it is a necessary expenditure.
One of the conditions any state must fulfill is that it must provide security for life and property.
“But the public should know as you release your budget that this is how much you have devoted to security.”
Similarly, Executive Director, We the People-Centre for Social Studies and Development, Ken Henshaw, argued that security vote portends a threat to Nigeria’s democratisation process.
He stressed that in reality even when a state governor is called chief security officer, “he still does not have any security responsibilities to security agencies.”
He went on: “There is no single security apparatus, which the state governor is constitutionally supposed to spend money on.
The best a state governor can do is to appropriate some funds to support the police create some checkpoints or buy some vehicles.
Strictly speaking the state governor does not have security responsibilities.
“I have always been of the opinion that security vote is a war arsenal or war chest for state governors.
Do not also forget the convention around security vote in Nigeria.
Security vote is considered that monetary vote which is put in there at the discretion of the governor, which is also spent at the discretion of the governor without demand for accountability on how it is spent.”
Henshaw recalled how during the immediate administration in Rivers State, the government had once budgeted N12billion in a particular year as security vote, which was subsequently reduced to about N8.5 billion per annum.
“The reality for me is that security votes are really vague and this vote, which are not accountable for, gives state governors the ability to accumulate huge resources, which they use in rigging elections.
“What we are saying is there should not be any item in the budget that is discretionary. Citizens deserve to know what was spent on a subject matter. Allowing this kind of room for discretionary expenditure enables the government to amass so much resources,” he said.
On the new trend of vote buying during elections, Henshaw argued that the appropriation of funds under the guise of security vote makes a mess of the idea of not-too-young-to-run, because no young person in this country can accumulate money to purchase vote at the going rate of N7, 000.
According to him, it makes useless chances of any small political party chances, which has not held power in the past to contest for election against entrenched parties that had been in power and whose governors have been able to accumulate money to procure votes.
“It makes the whole concept of democracy useless. It destroys; it complicates and creates a system where corruption is fully entrenched. Whosoever spends money on election will want to recoup his money. Politics has now become an investment,” he surmised.
A former Minister of Defence, Dr. Olu Agunloye, agreed that state executives have grossly misused security votes in their custody, “none excluded and it is right time we make them render account of it publicly.”
He, however, rejected the idea of joint custody of the votes by the three arms of government, saying: “That would also amount to nothing, because the votes available to the legislature and the judiciary are also misappropriated.
The problem with this country is that the only thing thriving is corruption and no section is exonerated.”
Agunloye added that the idea of asking incumbent governors aspiring for reelection to step down before contesting would also not work.
He said that was the reason he supported the proposal for single term of five years.
A public analyst, Mr. Emmanuel Mok, also said it was necessary not only for the governors, but the President and whosoever is in custody of public funds to render account of how such money was spent, saying: “After all it is public money that must be accounted for.”
Executive Secretary of the Nigeria National Summit Group (NNSG), Mr. Tony Uranta, wondered that “even after the still largely-unproven allegations that the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) abused unfettered control of billions of naira in the name of security votes, not even President Buhari has deemed it fit to send an Executive Bill to the National Assembly to address the persisting lacuna that allows public officers access to our commonwealth without any ongoing checks or balances.”
He stated: “For over a decade, I have vociferously held the view that it is neither right nor moral for any public official, including the President, governors, council chairmen, Heads of MDAs at all three tiers of government to be allowed to have unsupervised and unaudited control of humongous amounts of monies that we loosely refer to as ‘Security Votes.”
He said that in the U.S, whose system of democracy we copied, the legislative arm of government, the Congress, has full oversight control over all security expenditure.
“Until the Nigerian Constitution and legislature ensure that the National and State assemblies have similar oversight control over the putative security votes, expended mainly by the executive functionaries, Nigeria will not even have scratched the surface of the corruption endemic, especially in governance systems here.
Which is why I blame all past and present governments of the Fourth Republic for having not seen it fit to work towards the creation of an Act (or, Executive Order?!) that creates this necessary oversight responsibility for our lawmakers to effectively play the role of Ombudsmen and auditors regarding the awarding and deployment of the corrupting security votes,” Uranta remarked.
A chieftain of national Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Chief Amos Akingba, said security votes and elections are the major parts of Nigeria’s problems, stressing: “Why should there be undue funding of something that is problematic.
If we don’t restructure, nothing will work. By the time everything gets out of hand, many people will suffer for it.”
Initial fuss over secret funds
SPEAKER of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, was the first to provoke public attention to the evils of secrecy surrounding security votes by state governors.
Dogora’s challenge to state governors to be transparent about their emoluments, elicited a response from Governor Nasir El-Rufai, who tackled the lawmakers on the opacity of their emoluments.
The underlying row culminated in the position that the security vote of state governors was not only unconstitutional, but considered by many as a major source of corruption in the states.
Shortly after assuming office and perhaps to earn public adulation, Imo State governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, slashed his security vote from N6.5b to N2.5b, stressing that he was freeing money for education and other sectors in dire need of funding.
However, close government sources claimed that in his second term, the security vote has been shrouded in secrecy.
“The issue at stake is not the amount per se, but the judicious use of the voted sum.
The question is, do they use the money to better the lot of people they govern? The answer is no.
Often times, it is put to personal use or expended on their lackeys,” the source said.
Also, a former governor of Kano State, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, at the beginning of his second term in office, had described security vote as another way of stealing public funds, saying: “Security vote anywhere is stealing. I don’t believe in it.”
But a source disclosed: “It is not entirely true the security votes are privately appropriated by governors or used to settle their lackeys.
I am aware that the money also goes to federal security agencies; the army, navy, air force, police, immigration, etc. and most of the funds are pocketed by the heads of these institutions.”
While an erstwhile governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba, defended the security vote, he however condemned its abuse, pointing out that his security vote while in office rose from N250, 000 monthly to N500, 000, and later N5m during the election period.
Osoba noted that the management of the vote by current office holders was worrisome due to its abuse.
But one-time governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, decried the way the vote was being mismanaged by state executives, contending that up to the Second Republic, the Federal Government was in charge of security nationwide, wondering why governors were being given responsibilities that outweigh their capacities.
He recalled that during his stewardship, he was only entitled to N100, 000 monthly as a security vote.
But Chief Robert Clarke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the vote was unconstitutional, since according to him, no provision in the 1999 Constitution allowed security vote to be enjoyed by anybody.
He said: “When the military were in power, they needed security votes, because they came by way of coups.
At any time they could be removed by another coup.
So, they needed, at every given time, to know what was happening around them.
So, they sought from the military authorities the right to have a special allocation to use as source of security for information against coup plotters.”
Clarke recalled that by the time the 1999 Constitution came into effect, there was no provision for security vote, adding: “There may be provision for the upkeep of the Presidency or the governor’s house.
But, you will never find that a special amount of money has been allocated for security.”
Also, a civil society group, under the aegis of Arewa Youth for Progress and Development (AYPAD) faulted the use of security vote by governors, saying that most of the funds are usually deployed for politics and purposes meant to undermine the nation’s democracy.
The president of AYPAD, Comrade Danjuma Sarki, who spoke with The Guardian yesterday, said unless the governors and the presidency redirect the use of security votes to combating crimes and criminality in Nigeria, while they de-emphasise its use for politics, Nigeria’s democracy will remain under threat as the 2019 general elections draw near.
Sarki said: “I think it is morally wrong and irrational for the governors to use the resources they have in form of security votes any how they want without addressing the problems in their states.
This is a major source of corruption and a major factor that is used to undermine democratic processes.
“Nigerians are not secured even with the security votes available to the governors and you also find that crime and criminality go on everywhere in Nigeria. So, what is the essence of the security votes dished out to the governors?
Presently you can see that the killings and attacks by insurgents are still going on everywhere.
“Today in Kaduna there is money that were said to budgeted for the provision of CCTV facilities to be installed in Kaduna city, but up till now we don’t know where the money has gone to.”
Reacting to the vote buying during the recent Ekiti election, Sarki argued, “The use of security votes by government functionaries, particularly the Presidency and other government officials to buy the votes of the electorate is condemnable.
This is unprecedented in the history of elections in Nigeria.
“Nigerians must join hands to condemn the government for deploying the unprecedented level of security to Ekiti and the way they deployed money to buy votes.
This is a threat to democracy. And it is a signal to what may likely transpire in the 2019 general elections.
President Muhammadu Buhari must be brought to order.”
Nil incumbencies as way out
Regarding incumbents not resigning while seeking a fresh mandate, a law teacher, Prof. Agu Gab Agu, said it has denied the country opportunity of producing the best candidates for elective offices.
Agu noted that while it was easier for an appointee to resign and return to his job after an election, such was not possible with a civil servant, even as he stressed that an appointee was only expected to resign from his position when he had become a candidate in an election.
He added: “We have lived with this for a long time.
It also gives advantage to the occupant of the office to remain on seat and contest the same position.
On the long run however, it tends to make the incumbent believe that anyhow, he would win in an electoral process.
It is not too healthy, but the constitution is not against it, probably because, nature does abhors a vacuum.”
Kelvin Ebiri, Seye Olumide, Kehinde Olatunji, Lawrence Njoku and Saxone Aikhaine